NBA Playoffs 2011: No More East Clarity As Bulls, Celtics Try To Hold Off Heat

The Eastern Conference's NBA Playoff picture remains unsettled as the Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics, each fallible of late, sit tied atop the standings at 49-19. The teams meet April 7 with, potentially, the No. 1 seed on the line. That supposes, however, that the Miami Heat, currently two games back and with the easiest schedule remaining, don't make a run at the top.

The No. 3 Heat (48-22) just completed a run of 11 consecutive games against plus-.500 teams. Miami finished the span 5-6, with a five-game losing streak to start the run. But because the Celtics and Bulls have continued to trip up -- the Celtics lost to the New Jersey Nets and Houston Rockets last week; Chicago dropped a game to the Indiana Pacers on Friday -- the Heat aren't out of it. Just four of Miami's 12 remaining opponents currently have winning records, and that includes the barely-over-.500 Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers. The two other matches -- against the Celtics and Hawks -- come in the final week, which means that Miami could slip into an advantageous position by the time those games arrive.

The Bulls' schedule certainly isn't a problem, though; seven of its 14 opponents have plus-.500 records, but only the Celtics and Magic are true stumbling blocks. If Miami goes 10-2, Chicago could go 9-5 and still edge the Heat for seeding purposes. Boston has the toughest schedule of the three, as it faces both the Heat and the Bulls in April, in addition to the Spurs and Knicks twice. But as is the case with Chicago, the Celtics could go 9-5 to the Heat's 10-2 and still finish on top by virtue of the head-to-head tiebreaker.

The Orlando Magic are solidly in the No. 4 spot, and will certainly face the No. 5 Atlanta Hawks in the first round. The Magic are four games behind the Heat and four games ahead of the Hawks. The Hawks, in turn, are four games ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers, who passed the New York Knicks for the No. 6 seed over the weekend.

There's no chance the Knicks will fall out of the playoffs; even at 35-34, New York leads the No. 8 Indiana Pacers by 5.5 games and the No. 9 Milwaukee Bucks and Charlotte Bobcats by seven. The Pacers do have the pole position on No. 8, and all three teams in contention have similarly fair schedules. The trio play each other once each, with the next battle -- Bobcats vs. Pacers -- set for Wednesday.

The New Jersey Nets, in case you were wondering, are certainly dead.

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